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Since July 2016, US software company Niantic’s Pokémon Go application has taken the world by storm, amassing nearly 500 million active users so far. The game’s creator, John Hanke, has stated that the purpose of this augmented reality game is to make users move out of their homes and actually play in parks and recreational facilities. It is quite ironical as a statement, underlining the need for technology to bring people out of their technology zones. As that is precisely what technology has done; enclosed us in our virtual realms of reality than the actuality of it.

Technology today directs and operates our lives, and it is only increasing with each passing day. We spend more time in making friends on Facebook, than actually meeting them and forging honest relationships. Instead of appreciating a meal at a restaurant and enjoying it with a companion, we take time in getting that perfect shot of the dish to post it on Instagram. We miss witnessing the beauty of the setting sun over the horizon, while adjusting the camera’s lens. The parched fragrance of old dusted books is lost into the revised editions on Amazon’s Kindle. Today, you swipe right or left on Tinder to decide on a date instead of actually mustering up the courage to speak to that person. There is an application for everything and everyone, isolating the need to socialise, adapt and experience the world. It all fits into a five inches’ mobile phone. Why is this wrong, technology is evolving and so should we, right? No, technology is pushing us into our bean bags, a space from where the world is utopian, one-sided and deprived of life’s necessary skills for development.

The 2016 Mary Meeker’s Annual Internet Trends Report, found that the average time spent on mobile phones worldwide is four hours per day. The majority of this time is split between Facebook, WhatsApp and Google Chrome. This is a staggering estimate, considering that most of us are unable to meet our sleeping and exercise requirements. Couple this up with endless hours spend on our laptops, play stations, television screens, and a world of technology is formed, which defines every segment of our 24 hours. Technology fixation, does not only isolate us from what’s happening around, but also constructs a world of one-sided opinion. The algorithm of our internet searches, likes and dislikes on social media, conjures a web of information only suiting our ideas and principles. Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian internet activist has termed this phenomenon as ‘echo chambers’ in social media. The act of engaging with thoughts and people that only align with us, leaving no scope of debate. We only dwell on singularly tracked thoughts finding appeal within our chosen set of followers or friends, otherwise we simply block them. One of the strongest arguments arising out of this construct, is that technology has connected the world. We are closer to each other than ever before, but are we? We connect with families across time zones but end up texting our friends living in the adjacent room. We have become far more comfortable in sending out emails than having one-on-one conversations with our peers. We have out-dated the romance in meeting new people, have engaging discussions and holding healthy arguments.

So what is the solution out of this technological dilemma? We need to be aware of this dependency and work towards minimizing the daily technological usage. Simple habits of not checking our mobile phones right before sleeping and after waking up, can act as first steps towards tackling this problem. Further, engaging in verbal interactions where possible can ensure better conversations. The familiarities and lessons we go through in our lives cannot be sought through a technological bandwidth. It needs first hand experiences, emotional connection, and above all a relationship with the world functioning around us. We should observe that world without the help of a camera lens or augmented reality.

Pokémon Go might have instilled people to move out of their comfort zones, but their necks are still down facing a screen in search of the most unique pocket monster. Maybe if we understand that the most unique creature to find, is us, ourselves. The reality in which we live and the experiences that we grow with, shape our thoughts and decisions, which are more precious than collecting poké-balls at the closest stop.

Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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